The Spring Training countdown is now at 23 days, with Angels pitchers and catchers reporting on Feb. 13, and the deadline to sign Masahiro Tanaka is roughly 72 hours away. Now that the offseason is in its final stages, I've tackled some more of your questions …
Who is a more realistic option -- Matt Garza or Tanaka?
-- Dante C., Colton, Calif.
Garza has always been the more realistic option, because the price demands aren't as high and the competition is nowhere near as fierce. The Angels like Tanaka and would love to work something out with him. But they can't sign him to a contract exceeding $100 million without going over the luxury-tax threshold, and it looks like that's the minimum requirement to land the 25-year-old right-hander. Given the Angels' payroll structure -- with Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols making big bucks, and Mike Trout expected to join them soon -- Tanaka may simply be too much of a gamble.
The Angels have targeted the 30-year-old Garza ever since Jason Vargas slipped from their grasp by signing a four-year, $32 million contract with the Royals in November. He isn't tied to Draft-pick compensation, and he's posted a 3.76 ERA the last six years. But he's also been on the disabled list each of the last three seasons because of an arm injury, so it's not like he's a can't-miss.
With a current starting five of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, the Angels feel like they're in a position to be patient. Barring a Tanaka signing -- a surprise at this point, given that they didn't meet with him in California two weeks ago and aren't among the five teams who reportedly had an offer on the table -- they'll either wait for Garza's price demands to drop or shift their focus to the likes of Bronson Arroyo, Paul Maholm, Chris Capuano, etc.
What's a comfortable figure for Garza? My guess is a four-year, $60 million contract would be the absolute max, and even that may be too much.
In your opinion, who should be the leadoff man for the Angels?
When it's all set and done, I think this will end up being a revolving door for Mike Scioscia, because it sounds like he prefers to have Trout bat second and the Angels don't necessarily have an ideal leadoff man. But I think Kole Calhoun should be given the first crack at it. He isn't a prototypical leadoff hitter, but so what?
What Scioscia wants are people who can get on base in front of Trout, to feed him more RBI opportunities. And Calhoun can do that. He doesn't have a whole lot of speed and would be described more as a power hitter -- even though he's listed at a generous 5-foot-10 -- but he batted .282/.347/.462 in 58 Major League games last year and is a .317/.402/.541 hitter in the Minors.
I could also see Erick Aybar leading off when he's hot at the plate, but he has a .313 on-base percentage over the last four years. On the nights the lefty-hitting J.B. Shuck starts -- probably against lefties, against whom he posted a .355 on-base percentage last year -- he'd be an ideal fit at the leadoff spot. But an effective Calhoun at the top can make this lineup dynamic.
Are there any other weaknesses the Angels should address before Spring Training?
Besides signing a veteran starter, I think the Angels should -- and will -- simply focus on adding additional Triple-A depth for Spring Training. People tend to overlook this component, but it's crucial over the course of a 162-game season. Look no further than last year, when the Angels used 21 different pitchers in April and May alone. The Angels' Triple-A bullpen figures to be pretty deep, and they have plenty of coverage on the infield. But they still need outfield help in Triple-A and could use another starter in the Minors. As of now, the projected Triple-A rotation consists of Wade LeBlanc, Matt Shoemaker, Jarrett Grube and Justin Thomas.
What do you see Grant Green's role being in 2014?
As of right now, I think Green will be competing with right-handed-hitting outfielder Collin Cowgill for the final bench spot, which usually winds up being the most irrelevant storyline of Spring Training because the end of the bench fluctuates so much over the course of a season. Point is, Green has a chance to win a bench role, but his status is uncertain.
Even with Green on the club, the Angels would need to carry a shortstop, with Andrew Romine the favorite for the utility-infield spot and John McDonald challenging him. Shuck would be the fourth outfielder, and it'll depend on whether Scioscia wants to have an extra infielder or an extra outfielder. Green can hit; that's never really been a question. And he's fine at second base. If he can show an ability to play third base this spring, and perhaps even the outfield corners, his chances of finally sticking in the Majors will improve greatly.
The Angels were said to be impressed with Mark Mulder so far. What do you think of the signing? And if he continues to impress, could it affect which free-agent pitcher the team decides to go after?
-- Austin B., Lake Elsinore, Calif.
I like the Mulder signing for the same reason I like all Minor League signings -- there's zero risk attached to it, so why not take a shot? It will not impact the team's ability to sign another free agent, and if the Angels sign someone like Tanaka or Garza, a move that would push them at or very close to the luxury-tax threshold, Mulder may never really have a shot at all.
Mulder "impressed during his workouts," but going from bullpen sessions to 100-pitch outings every five days is a major hurdle, especially for a 36-year-old who hasn't pitched competitively in six years. If he gives them an option for the back end of the rotation, it'll be a huge plus for a club with little pitching in the upper levels. If it ultimately doesn't work out -- like the Chad Cordero signing last year -- it doesn't affect them at all.
Is Joe Blanton really done with the Angels? I can't believe last year was who he really is, or am I wrong?
-- T.J. R., Fort Collins, Colo.
Actually, T.J., it wouldn't surprise me at all if Blanton reverts back to who he's always been in 2014 -- a steady, back-of-the-rotation innings-eater. I'd just be shocked if it ends up happening with the Angels. There won't really be any room for him, especially if they sign a free-agent starter, and it's not like he can help them in the bullpen or be optioned to the Minor Leagues. So I think at some point, barring injury, they'll try to get some money back for him in a trade or release him. The Angels can't afford to count on him after a season that saw him go 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA. But he's healthy, has a proven track record, and could end up helping someone in 2014 -- although it may have to come in the National League.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez.